As students, when thinking about college, we anxiously anticipate not only education but our first taste of freedom. For some, this includes the world of fraternities, sororities and wild college parties. Many are quick to consider this aspect of college problematic but forget to consider another increasingly prevalent issue: colleges’ hesitancy to report campus assault.
Hannah Graham, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, was walking back from an off-campus party on Sept. 13 when she disappeared, sparking a national search. On Oct. 18, her body was found about 10 miles from where she had last been seen.
The last surveillance footage of Graham shows her entering a bar with the case’s prime suspect, a University of Virginia Hospital technician, Jessie Williams. Witnesses report that the two drank together for about fifteen minutes before leaving.
Sadly, the media frenzy seemed to focus on Graham’s being “very intoxicated,” an example of the tendency to blame rape victims, perhaps in denial of the real issue.
Investigation of Williams uncovered a history of unreported assaults from when he was a college student. In 2002, Williams was accused of rape at Liberty University, but was expelled only due to the school’s “no sexual conduct” rule. The next year at Christian Newport University, Williams was the suspect in another sexual assault case. The college held a brief investigation but did not notify the police and allowed Williams to quietly leave campus mid-semester. Once again, Williams left without a charge of assault or a trace of the case on his record.
If Williams did in fact escape from previous sexual assault cases in college, it is likely that this was encouragement for his more recently confirmed homicide and rape cases, along with the offense towards Graham.
Jim Moore, a US Department of Education official, admitted that some schools purposely underreport crimes to protect their reputations. Last year, Elizabeth City State University’s public crime report showed that in the past decade, no student had been sexually assaulted. Police later uncovered nearly 20 unreported sexual assault cases.
Sexual assault is a serious crime and should be treated as one. Colleges’ weak and sometimes nonexistent punishment of assaulters potentially instills the message that it is okay to sexually assault others and that one can get away with it. Reputation measures little when compared to human violation – we must remove our reluctance to address such issues in order to solve this problem.
A rape victim at Columbia University recently made headlines for carrying a mattress around campus daily to lead students’ protest against the school’s poor handling of campus assault cases and stand up against this hidden injustice. Colleges need to change the fact that not thousands of covered-up assault cases, but a public demonstration is initiating action to give students the right to a proper investigation and trial – a right they should already have.